13 O’Clock Movie Retrospective – Deep Red

On today’s installment of the Retrospective, Tom and Jenny are discussing the classic 1975 giallo directed by Dario Argento, Deep Red, otherwise known as Profondo Rosso.

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THANK YOU TO ALL OUR SUPPORTERS! The show is made possible by: Kool Kitty, Oli, Justin, John, Sean, Jason, Scarlett, Nathalie, Jake, Jen, Victoria, Lana, Duncan, Thomm, Matthew, Liam, John, Joseph, Dan, Rob, Melanie, Eric, Brandon, Mike, Richard, Valtrina, Tara, Sandra, Paul, Jonathan, Weaponsandstuff93, Michael, Ben, Anthony, Via, Denise, Ima Shrew, James, Matt, Mary Ellen, Jamin, Joanie, Arif, Natalia, Samantha, Ashley, Kieron, Sophie, Tara, Jana & Scott, Ed, creepy crepes, Christopher, Elizabeth, Tina, Lars, Ed, Feeky, Veronica, Corinthian, Daniel, Dean, Greg, Lindsey, Richard & Sheena, and KnotHead Studios.

13 O’Clock is hosted by Jenny Ashford & Tom Ross.

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13 O’Clock Episode 34 – An Appreciation of the Giallo

A masked, black-gloved killer stalks the streets of Rome, hacking away at underdressed ladies with a flashing, phallic blade. A hapless tourist witnesses one of these murders, but is brushed off by the police, and is forced to try to reveal the killer on her own, before she becomes the next victim.

If this plot sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the most common story arc of the classic Italian thriller/horror genre, the giallo. This distinctive film style has many fascinating aesthetic and narrative flourishes, and is largely responsible for kicking off the American slasher film boom of the 1970s and 1980s. On this episode, Tom and Jenny discuss one of Jenny’s very favorite film styles, giving a history of the genre, a breakdown of the most commonly seen tropes, and opinions about the best giallo films. Sharpen your straight razor and shrug into your black trenchcoat as we take a deep red journey into the lurid, murderous world of the giallo. Bring in the perverts!

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Once We Used to Eat Our Enemies: An Appreciation of “The Bloodstained Shadow” and “The Perfume of the Lady In Black”

Holy shit, you guys, I just realized that the last time I posted one of my long-form horror movie breakdowns was back in goddamn NOVEMBER (it was an appreciation of the British made-for-TV classic Ghostwatch, if you’re interested), so I felt the need to remedy that situation with a quickness. The reason I haven’t posted as many is because I’ve been working on the weekly 13 O’Clock podcast as well as finishing up my new book, The Unseen Hand, which I’m happy to announce is now available in print and ebook formats, with the audio version coming very soon!

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Anyway, I’ve got a double dose of giallo goodness for you today, since I’ve been researching an upcoming podcast episode on giallo films and have been spending some time revisiting some old favorites as well as watching some lesser-known examples of the genre. First in the lineup is The Bloodstained Shadow from 1978, known in Italy as Solamente nero and also released under the title Only Blackness. Directed by Antonio Bido and featuring Stefania Casini (of Suspiria fame) in a prominent role, this one didn’t knock me out with awesomeness, but it was still an enjoyable, if fairly derivative, slice of bloody giallo fun.

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In many ways, The Bloodstained Shadow, with its focus on the church, its use of a strange painting as one of the key plot points, and the appearance of Lino Capolicchio playing a protagonist named Stefano recalls Pupi Avati’s fantastic House with the Laughing Windows (which I wrote about here). Its Venetian locations and the featuring of a creepy psychic also give it a passing whiff of Nicolas Roeg’s classic Don’t Look Now (which I wrote about here).

In brief, Stefano travels to the Venetian island of Murano to visit his brother, a Catholic priest named Don Paolo. Almost as soon as he arrives, he discovers that something odd is afoot; the aforementioned psychic seems to creep his brother out for some reason, a wealthy pedophile is molesting children left and right, and Stefano starts having flashbacks of a screaming little boy that seems to be somehow tied in with the murder of a schoolgirl that took place on the island years before.

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There is also the matter of a murder in the town square that Don Paolo witnesses; the victim turns out to be the psychic, whose séances were notorious for attracting all of the town’s most reviled residents and who Don Paolo had actively campaigned against. Don Paolo begins receiving threatening, typewritten messages, presumably from the killer, and Stefano teams up with his brother and his new lady-friend to try to get to the bottom of the mystery.

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As I said, this one wasn’t super memorable, but it was a satisfying, workmanlike giallo that hit all the correct beats. There were lots of plot twists, some gory murders, and several red herrings to lead viewers in the wrong direction (though I have to admit I figured out who the killer was before the end). Recommended for fans of the genre who haven‘t seen it, but for neophytes I’d suggest House with the Laughing Windows before this one.

Next up is the 1974 Francesco Barilli film, The Perfume of the Lady in Black, starring Mimsy Farmer. I hesitate to even call this movie a giallo; a couple of the elements are there, and it’s usually listed as one, but to be honest it’s more a straight-up psychological horror film, obviously very heavily influenced by Roman Polanski, particularly Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. The movie as a whole is intensely dreamlike, and even after watching it, you’re really not sure how much of what you saw unfolding on screen actually took place and how much was the fantasy of the main character.

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In fact, if you come into Perfume expecting the requisite steady murder count of the standard giallo, then you’re going to be disappointed; there are almost no deaths and no gore until the end, and even the bizarre final scenes leave more questions than answers. This film is much more like the creepy slow burn of a good ghost story, or like the unsettling, atmospheric weirdness of Polanski’s The Tenant: nothing is as it seems, everyone seems shifty and sinister and out to get the protagonist for some reason, and the movie goes on quite a long time without really revealing what the hell is going on and why all these strange things are happening.

Mimsy Farmer plays Silvia, a chemist whose dedication to her work causes tension with her jackwad boyfriend Roberto (Maurizio Bonuglia), who doesn’t understand why Silvia can’t just blow off her job to go play tennis with him and who wiggles his ass in the most disturbing way when he has sex with her. After an argument, Silvia seeks to make amends by bringing Roberto a present of a mounted butterfly (which he collects), but when she gets to his house, it looks like he isn’t there, and she sees what seems to be the ghost of a woman in a black and white dress in a mirror in Roberto’s bedroom.

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From here on out, the viewer is taken on a strange ride, as weird shit starts happening all around Silvia: people on the street eye her suspiciously, she sleeps through an entire day without knowing why, a tennis racket she grabs has a nail in the handle that slices her palm and her tennis partner drinks the blood from it with a bit too much enjoyment, a treasured photo she takes to have reframed mysteriously gets stolen, a bratty little girl in a white dress turns up in her apartment and refuses to leave.

As the movie goes on, the strange events escalate, and we’re led to believe that Silvia has become the target of a vast, black magic conspiracy that seemingly includes everyone she knows, including her boyfriend, her best friend Francesca, and everyone in her building, and appears to be engineered by a mysterious African professor who is friends with Roberto. Are all these people trying to drive Silvia mad? If so, why? Or is she simply losing her mind of her own accord? Flashbacks of her possible past may provide the solution, but it’s still far from straightforward how much of the plot takes place in Silvia’s imagination; in this aspect, the many references in the film to Alice In Wonderland make total sense.

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I actually really dug this one, though as I said, don’t go into it expecting a textbook giallo, because it really doesn’t have many giallo elements at all, other than the mystery angle. It’s also pretty slow-moving, which I quite liked, but I can see how the pace might be too leisurely for some. I think it did a great job of building tension slowly, of unraveling Silvia’s sanity at a measured, surreal pace, and it had some really great, eerie moments and unsettling shots that were pleasingly disorienting. Recommended less for giallo fans and more for Polanski aficionados and those who like their horror with a sense of subtle unease.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

We All Mask Our Desperation As Best We Can: An Appreciation of “The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail”

Buonasera, spaghetti horror aficionados! We’re delving back into the giallo pot for today’s delectable serving, so tie on your bib and chow down!

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The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (La Coda dello Scorpione, 1971) was the second giallo film directed by Sergio Martino, who also helmed one of my previously featured films, All the Colors of the Dark. Scorpion’s Tail isn’t quite as groovy and fun as Colors, but it’s still a tightly plotted and entertaining little thriller with some nice cinematography, a script with lots of surprising twists and turns, and some satisfyingly bloody kills.

At the beginning of the movie, we’re introduced to beautiful blonde Lisa Baumer (Evelyn Stewart), two-timing wife of jet-setting rich dude Kurt Baumer. While Lisa is busily banging her scruffy side-piece, she receives a phone call that informs her that her presumably Lego-sized husband has tragically perished in the explosion of his teeny toy plane (you’ll know what I mean when you see the effect, you guys). Into the phone, she’s all, “Yeah, I know all about thaaaaa…I mean, oh man, that’s a damn shame. I loved that guy more than life itself, yes indeedy.” Helping her through her terrible grief is the fact that poor ‘sploded Kurt had an insurance policy that will make Lisa a million dollars richer; all she has to do is fly to Athens, Greece to pick up the check, and cha-ching: baby you’re a rich man.

Since insurance companies are generally no chumps, they suspect that maaaaybe Lisa had something to do with the plastic plane explosion that shuffled off Kurt’s mortal coil, so they hire insurance investigator and rakishly suave motherfucker Peter Lynch (George Hilton) to follow Lisa’s tight ass around and measure the exact proportion of fatale to her femme.

Lisa groks to his game right away, but she’s got bigger problems than him to deal with, because it turns out that Kurt’s ogre-faced mistress Lara (Janine Reynaud) and her lawyer/one-man brute squad Sharif (Luis Barboo) want to get their hands on some of Kurt’s sweet death-cash as well, and try to kill the conniving Lisa after she refuses to buckle under their (admittedly pretty lame) threats of blackmail.

Planning on getting her money as quickly as possible and getting the fuck out of Dodge, Lisa cashes her million-dollar check and makes arrangements to meet current homme de commodité Scruffy D. Adulterer in Tokyo. Unfortunately, the security at her hotel isn’t quite up to snuff, and she is summarily sliced into ribbons and relieved of her ill-gotten gains before she can even finish stowing her slain-spouse money-bundles into her fetching carry-on valise.

There then follows your standard giallo murder mystery, replete with world-weary, shit-talking investigators, a budding love story between two of the characters involved in the case, and a whole fisherman’s platter of red herrings. People who are suspected of some of the murders start to turn up dead themselves, and it becomes very clear that whatever it is that’s going on, it’s far more complicated than it seemed at first blush. Who is bumping off all these seemingly unrelated people? Is it the sketchy Interpol officer with the mysteriously injured hand? How about Lisa’s heroin-shootin’ and Mac Davis-resemblin’ ex-boyfriend? Did Kurt Baumer fake his own death to collect on his own insurance policy? Or is something even more convoluted and sinister going on? And why on earth do female characters in every single one of these movies insist on standing there and helplessly staring at the door while a murderer is busting it down? Honestly, ladies, you can run away; just because some dude goes to the trouble of breaking into your house doesn’t give you some kind of social obligation to allow him to stab you. You’re welcome for that tidbit of advice, by the way.

All in all, this was a serviceable giallo with enough plot curveballs to keep you guessing, and though I won’t spoil the ending, I will say that this film features an enjoyable subversion of some of the most common tropes of the genre vis-a-vis the resolution of the mystery. There’s also some added spice in the form of a fairly graphic eye gouging and the frequent appearance of two of Anita Strindberg’s boisterously bouncing…acting chops. Enjoy with a cappuccino and a nice biscotti, and call me in the morning.

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Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

Even Those Representing God Must Rely on Advertising: An Appreciation of “Seven Blood Stained Orchids”

It’s a stormy Saturday afternoon here in central Florida, and as I often like to do on wet weekends such as these, I decided to while away a couple of hours with a strangely comforting European cult flick from the 1970s and then tell the internet how I felt about it, whether the internet wants to hear it or not. Did I mention I’m back on the giallo kick? No? Okay, consider it mentioned.

Anyway, I’ve obviously written about a few gialli before, and the funny thing about the genre is that you don’t have to see too many of them before you start getting into what I call “endless giallo recursion,” or alternately, “The Giallo Small World Hypothesis.” To wit, the movie we’re discussing today is another one with bloody flowers prominent in the title and the plot (just like the subject of my older post, The Case of the Bloody Iris), and another one featuring Marina Malfatti (who was also in a couple of other gialli I wrote about, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and All the Colors of the Dark), albeit in a fairly small role.

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Seven Blood Stained Orchids (Sette orchidee macchiate di rosso) was released in 1972 and was the last of a series of four Italian/German co-productions (fun fact: in Germany, the equivalent of gialli is “Krimi”) based upon the works of prolific British crime writer Edgar Wallace. It was directed by Umberto Lenzi, probably most infamous (at least in the U.S. and U.K.) as the director of a couple of the most notorious “video nasties,” Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox. Now, before you go getting any ideas, Seven Blood Stained Orchids is pretty much a textbook giallo and has very little in common with Lenzi’s gore films; in fact, the violence here is exceptionally tame, with the bloodiest scene probably being a relatively mild murder with a whirring drill (and you know you’re a horror junkie when a grisly drill-through-the-heart scene barely raises an interested eyebrow). So whether that makes you more or less likely to want to watch it is entirely up to you.

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NEEDS MOAR NEEDLES TAPED UNDER EYEBALLS.

 

As I said, this movie ticks pretty much all the blood-spattered little giallo boxes: there’s a black-gloved killer stalking and killing scantily-clothed women with a knife, there’s a strange calling card left at the murder scenes (in this case, an occult-looking silver half-moon pendant), there is an investigation undertaken by one of the target victims when police prove less than useful, and there is the standard parade of shifty motherfuckers who drift through the story and serve as red herrings until the mystery slowly becomes resolved. Could the killer be the enigmatic old man babbling in German in the cemetery? The heroin-shooting Jimi Hendrix fan who does nothing but host open-door naked orgy parties at his zebra-print hippie pad? Or perhaps it’s his blouse-wearing boyfriend, who is a dead ringer for Rufus Wainwright? Or how about that hard-faced old battle-axe in the lunatic asylum who gives one of the potential victims a whole faceful of stinkeye and keeps a thermometer under her chair cushion, the way you do?

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“I DON’T CARE WHO IT IS, AS LONG AS THE STAB WOUNDS DON’T MAR MY CHESTICULAR PERKINESS.”

 

Briefly, the main plot revolves around a woman named Giulia (Uschi Glas) and her new husband, fashion designer and bossy-boots Mario (Antonio Sabato), as they attempt to get to the bottom of a mysterious series of killings, linked by the aforementioned half-moon pendant. After the murder of a prostitute (Lina Franchi) and an artist (Marina Malfatti), Giulia is targeted for death while she is on a train with Mario, heading toward their honeymoon destination. She survives, but because the killer beat cheeks before checking to make sure she was dead (rookie mistake), the police stage a mock funeral for her and keep her in hiding while they try to draw the murderer out. One of the repeated motifs of the film, though, is the general ineffectiveness of the cops, as they time and again fail to protect the marked women, even after Giulia and Mario have figured out the tenuous connection between the victims and helpfully provided a list of who is likely to meet the killer’s knife next. So fuck the police, the movie seems to be saying, since they apparently can’t manage to catch a cold even when all the legwork is done for them.

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“YEAH, THEY’RE STANDING RIGHT HERE…YEAH, THEY JUST ASKED ME TO WIPE THEIR ASSES FOR THEM TOO.”

 

During the course of the film, we learn a great number of interesting facts. Among these are that serial killers become infinitely less sympathetic when they stoop to poisoning a bunch of kittens; that “The American Hospital” actually refers to the name of a medical facility in Rome and is not an admission that the Italians think there is only a single hospital on the entire American continent; that confessional booths in Catholic churches really need a better security detail; that a drugged-up sex soiree can’t be complete without poorly-applied body paint and a poster of Marilyn Monroe somewhere in the mix; and that not wearing a kicky purple scarf with your mod ensemble will make everyone think you’re a straight-up hooker who deserves to be bludgeoned to death in a cornfield.

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All in all, this was a fairly solid example of the genre, not mind-blowingly awesome, but quite enjoyable, well-paced, and rather elegantly shot. The central plot device of the authority figures in the movie being powerless to protect the victims added a nice little undercurrent of dread to the entire affair. While the reveal of the killer was something of a surprise, the untangling of the murderer’s motive was not as splashy or madness-fueled as in other examples of the genre, so it frankly fell a little flat for me, since I’m more into the excesses of Argento. But I would still recommend this to giallo fans as a decent, middle-of-the-road entry into the annals of Italian crime thrillers.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

Strange Men Have Been Following Women Since the Stone Age: An Appreciation of “All the Colors of the Dark”

Welcome back to our regularly scheduled programming, horror hounds. We’re traveling back to Italy for this one, and back to the giallo genre; we’re also revisiting some familiar faces from previous blog posts, because today’s movie features Edwige Fenech and George Hilton (from The Case of the Bloody Iris), as well as Marina Malfatti (who starred in The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave). So, without further delay, let’s jump right into the psychedelic cauldron of Satan, shall we?

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All the Colors of the Dark (Tutti i colori del buio, 1972) was an Italian/Spanish co-production, but set in London, and directed by Sergio Martino. It’s essentially a groovier, less satirical, and WAY more surreal take on Rosemary’s Baby, with similar themes of black magic, ambiguous reality, and crushing paranoia.

Beautiful but mentally fragile protagonist Jane has been going through some shit; not only was her mother murdered when she was five years old, but a year before the events of the film, she was in a car accident in which she suffered a miscarriage. Her boyfriend, pharmaceutical rep and raging jackwad Richard, was driving the car, and sorta feels responsible for the whole losing the baby thing, although he still kinda treats Jane like crap anyway. Ever since the tragedy, Jane has been plagued with horrific, Fellini-esque nightmares in which toothless old ladies cackle in close-up and a mysterious man with ice-blue eyes repeatedly stabs women in their beds.

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DAVID LYNCH TO THE WHITE COURTESY PHONE.

In true “Yellow Wallpaper” fashion, Richard has been pooh-poohing Jane’s wishes to see a psychiatrist, insisting she just needs to keep ingesting the weird blue toilet-tablet vitamin concoction he’s giving her to flush away the crazy, since he clearly subscribes to the Tom Cruise School of Psychiatry Is Evil and Scientology Solves All the Things With Vitamins and OT Powers. But since playing with the Ty-D-Bol Man doesn’t seem to be doing her any damn good, Jane finally takes her sister Barbara’s advice and goes to see the psychiatrist Barbara works for, a kindly old man called Dr. Burton. Doc seems more understanding, but her nightmares are not going away, and what’s worse, she’s starting to see the blue-eyed man stalking her in real life, or so it would appear.

Fearing she might be going batshit insane, she finally confides in foxy new neighbor Mary, whose first suggestion, obviously, is for Jane to accompany her to a black magic ritual, which should clear that whole mental illness thing right up, with the well-known healing power of Beelzebub. Jane gives this course of action about ten seconds of thought before going, “Sounds like a plan,” and after a festive afternoon of dog-blood drinking and gang rape, she seems right as rain again.

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BLACK CANDLES AND WHITEFACE: THE CURE FOR WHAT AILS YOU.

 

But not so fast! In a stunning twist, it turns out that demonic cults headed by fey bearded men wearing fabulous gold Lee press-on nails may not actually be conducive to one’s overall well-being! Who’da thought? From here on out, the movie takes on the aspect of a fever dream, as we’re not really sure who we can trust and what is really happening. Is the blue-eyed psycho real or imaginary? Is everyone Jane knows conspiring with the cult to push her off her rocker for good? Has Richard fucked every woman in the immediate vicinity, including Jane’s sister? What’s the over/under on how long it would take to murder a couple of German senior citizens and prop them up at the breakfast table as though they’re still alive? Will Jane ever learn to cook bacon and eggs properly? The surrealistic touches come hard and fast, and the viewer will be left confused and on edge until the very end.

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WAKING UP ON THE LAWN OF A SATANIC MURDER MANSION; WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE.

 

I really dug this one a lot; I loved the psychedelic weirdness and the ambiguity, and it had a really unsettling undertone of claustrophobia, as the world seemed to close in around poor Jane, leaving her with no one to trust. The cinematography was also lovely and strange, if a little heavy on the wacky camera effects. Definitely one of the more unique gialli, and one I’d definitely recommend to fans of Satanic cult movies as well.

That’s all for this installment, so until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

It’s Not Uncommon for a Man to Want to Do Strange Things to Get His Kicks: An Appreciation of “The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave”

In the mood for more Italian? Excellent; let’s mangia. Our movie today is one I actually thought I hadn’t seen before, though when I got to one of the later scenes, I felt a definite tingle of recollection. See, when I was a kid, I saw a movie with this one scene that really stuck in my memory, of a guy going into a tomb and seeing a creepy skeleton woman sitting up in a coffin. For many years afterward, I thought of the scene often, but damned if I could remember what movie it came from. Initially I thought it might be Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, but I revisited that recently, and nope, no dice. Then I got it into my head that it might have been an episode of “Night Gallery,” so I watched the entire run of the series. And although the pilot episode with Roddy McDowall, “The Cemetery,” contained a scene that kinda reminded me of the one I was thinking of, it didn’t immediately smack me in the face with recognition.

But then, in all my wanderings through the giallo universe, I stumbled across a flick with the wonderfully outlandish title The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (aka La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba), released in 1971. And bingo was his name-o — THERE was that elusive scene I remembered. Long story short (too late), I said all that to say that I actually thought I had never seen this movie, but I guess I did. Which then led me to think, holy crap, my parents let me watch this movie when I was naught but a nugget? Because yeah, it’s a little smutty.

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Anyway, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (um…spoiler alert?) was directed by Emilio Miraglia, and it’s a pretty fun little gothic horror romp that features many of my favorite things. There’s a creepy old mansion with a family tomb! There’s a spooky portrait of an ostensibly dead first wife! There are dastardly double and triple crosses! There are red-headed strippers with perky boobies! There are ghosts and séances! There’s sadomasochism! Fabulous “I Dream of Jeannie” outfits! A disabled woman gets eaten by foxes! It really does have something for everybody.

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The plot revolves around main character/colossal fuckstick Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen), a wealthy aristocrat who flipped his shit after the death of his (perhaps unfaithful) wife Evelyn in childbirth. He was institutionalized, but has been released back to his crumbling, palatial estate under the care of his family physician and close friend Dr. Richard Timberlane (Giacomo Rossi Stuart). It’s not made entirely clear whether the good doctor is aware of the…ahem…unconventional methods Alan has concocted to help him come to terms with his grief. Said methods include picking up carrot-topped prostitutes using slick come-ons like viciously yanking their hair and then saying, “Sorry, I thought it was a wig,” then taking the hapless whores back to his castle and engaging in a bit of Torquemada-style roleplay before killing them stone dead. “In other ages, prostitutes were branded with a hot iron. It was an excellent system,” he tells one victim, charmingly. If Dr. Timberlane does know about his patient’s itchy murder finger, he seems incredibly blasé about it, but hell, what’s a little strumpet slaying between friends? Also, Alan is a titled lord with boatloads of cash, so y’know, peasant laws don’t apply, obviously.

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One person who definitely does know about Alan’s extracurricular activities is dead wife Evelyn’s brother Albert (Roberto Maldera), who lives in a house on the grounds and often spies on Alan’s hooker extermination project. Every time a new floozy goes down for the count, Albert asks for hush money, at one point requesting the lavish sum of thirty pounds sterling. Albert: the budget blackmailer.

So Alan has apparently been on this murderous treatment program for nigh on a year, trolling for trollops with his only male relative, cousin George (Enzo Tarascio), who wears a giant hoop earring and swishes around like Paul Lynde, yet is shown banging luscious ladies on multiple occasions, because he is one hundred percent heterosexual, no doubt about it. Shockingly, all of this whorin’ and killin’ isn’t helping Alan’s mental state, since he is still haunted by visions of Evelyn, who’s always turning up in his head all naked and persistent. Dr. Timberlane suggests that if Alan were to marry again, then all of his violent urges would magically disappear, and I’m left wondering if this guy got his doctorate from some online diploma mill or something, because that is some really wack advice. But Alan is on board, all, no problemo, I’ll find a girl and get hitched, and then I can put all this pesky murder business behind me. Moments later, he goes to a party with George, where he meets an intriguing redhead with the unlikely name of Gladys (Marina Malfatti), and before he’s even given her a taste of his spicy Italian sausage, he’s proposing marriage. She’s all, “You’re trippin’, but…sure, sounds legit.” And thus Gladys becomes the second Lady Cunningham.

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There then follows a convoluted series of events typical of the gothic genre. Is Evelyn really haunting the castle, or has Alan jumped on the express train back to crazytown? What’s going on in the family tomb that Alan refuses to let his new wife see? Who keeps murdering Alan’s family members and worse, stealing the silverware? What’s the deal with the troop of identical maids who all wear the same blonde afro wigs? Will George ever come out of the closet? I won’t spoil any of the surprises, but suffice it to say that the Cunningham clan could do with some serious family counseling.

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I really enjoyed this one a lot; it had a great, Hammer-esque atmosphere and was pleasingly drenched in over-the-top campiness. It’s not really a traditional giallo, I guess, but it was an entertaining, creepy slice of early 70s sleaze-horror nonetheless. Recommended for those who like their gialli served up with a large side-dish of old-school gothic goodness.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out

To Buy Them Horror Tales, You Gotta Be Nuts: An Appreciation of “The Case of the Bloody Iris”

Happy hangover Sunday, fellow horror hos and bros. I’m dipping back into the giallo well for today’s post, and while our subject today leans slightly more toward erotica than horror, it was still fairly bloody and a lot of fun, so we’re just gonna roll with it. That cool with everybody? Good.

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1972’s The Case of the Bloody Iris (also known by the ridiculously convoluted title Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer?, or Why Are Those Strange Drops of Blood on Jennifer’s Body?) was directed by Giuliano Carnimeo under the pseudonym Anthony Ascott. It stars the gorgeous Edwige Fenech, who was in tons of European sex comedies and gialli back in the day, and it also boasts a pretty much nonstop cavalcade of perky, bouncing boobage, if you’re into that kind of thing (and who isn’t?).

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In fairly standard giallo fashion, the plot revolves around a killer with a black trenchcoat and hat, a black mask completely obscuring the face, and a wicked, scalpel-type knife which slices through pretty ladies with deadly efficiency and much spilling of garish crimson tempera paint. There is also the standard parade of red herrings, where almost anyone could be the murderer; is it main character Jennifer’s creepy ex-husband, who wants to draw her back into their nekkid orgy sex-cult days and keeps stalking her, leaving torn-up irises in her path? Is it her new beau/landlord, who has a strange aversion to blood and at one point tells her, “Wait until you find out what a bastard I am”? Is it the über-fey, walking-gay-stereotype photographer, who drinks like Dylan Thomas and has some of the movie’s most hilarious lines? Or how about that lecherous lesbian in the apartment next door? Or the busybody old bat in the building who rants about “whores” and buys piles of horror magazines from the newsstand every morning? Hell, what about the dismissive police inspector who gives more of a shit about collecting rare stamps from the crime scenes than he does actually solving the murders? The finger of suspicion falls on each one of them in turn, and the viewer doesn’t see the killer unmasked until the final five minutes, in what is actually a pretty fantastic, tense scene.

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As I implied earlier, this film is actually more like a mystery/sex farce with horror elements thrown into the mix than it is a traditional horror film. Yes, there are bloody murders aplenty, and there are creepy scenes of the victims being stalked in darkened streets and boiler rooms, but there are also psychedelic montages of the aforementioned nekkid orgies, topless blonde bimbos making light of shocking crimes while covered in soap bubbles, modeling sessions involving strategic body paint, and some good old fashioned erotic nightclub wrestling. There is also some patented early-70s misogyny (purported good guys smacking girls around and everyone being all NBD about it) and homophobia (personified in photographer Arthur, who is the gayest gay who ever gayed), plus a really bizarre, laissez-faire attitude that nearly all of the characters manifest toward the series of murders at the center of the plot. For example, at the beginning of the film, when a nameless call girl is stabbed in the elevator of the apartment building where the bulk of the action takes place, the residents who find her are all, “Eh, she doesn’t live here, so whatevs,” and that includes the first-on-the-scene, exotic dancer Mizar, who sees the bloody dead body and is all, “Huh, shame about that. Well, gotta split, got shit to do. Guess I’ll take the stairs.” Of course, she’s the next one to get offed, but still…kinda odd. Maybe the director was trying to make a statement about the modern world and its uncaring attitude toward others or something. Backing up this hypothesis is the scene where Jennifer’s goofball roommate Marilyn is stabbed to death on a crowded city street, and walks around bleeding and crying for help while pedestrians walk uncaringly around her. So yeah, could be a message there.

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Karma’s a bitch.

This is actually a decent giallo if you’re more into the softcore porn aspects of the genre, and if you don’t mind a copious amount of silliness and overdone seventies stereotypes. It’s a tad slow to get started, but the mystery is intriguing, and it’s unlikely that you’ll guess who the murderer is until the end (or at least I didn’t guess until right before the mask came off, but that might just be because I’m a big dummy). Of course it’s not up there with, say, Deep Red or Blood and Black Lace, but if you’re a giallo fan, it’s a pretty enjoyable little trifle.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

Tomatoes Feel Pain When You Poke Them: An Appreciation of “Short Night of Glass Dolls”

Greetings once again, my creepy companions! If you read my last post on The House with the Laughing Windows, you will perhaps have surmised that I’ve gone off on a bit of a giallo kick lately. Sure, I’ve always been a big fan of the best-known films in the genre, your Argentos and your Bavas, but recently I’ve gotten a bee in my bonnet about writing my own giallo-type story as a lark, and as such I decided to seek out a few of the lesser-known examples of the genre that I hadn’t seen, just to give me some additional inspiration. (And speaking of which, do you guys know about this random giallo generator? Because it is delightful.)

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So today I chose a 1971 film that has appeared on a few lists around the internet as one of the classics, though I admit I had never heard of it before I went hunting around. Originally known as Short Night of the Butterfly (which actually makes more sense to the plot), the film was eventually released under the title Short Night of Glass Dolls (or La Corta notte delle bambole di vetro, if you prefer) due to another movie with “butterfly” in the title being released around the same time. It was the directorial debut of Aldo Lado, who also directed another classic giallo, Who Saw Her Die? (which I might do a post about one of these days).

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In the film, an American journalist named Gregory Moore (Jean Sorel) has been covering political unrest in Prague, and is planning to pull some strings to smuggle his smoking hot Czech girlfriend Mira (played by a very young Barbara Bach) out of the country and back to London with him at the end of his assignment. But one night after a party, he is called away on a story tip which turns out to be a distraction, and when he returns to his apartment, he discovers that Mira is missing. The weirdest thing about her disappearance is that she didn’t take her handbag, her passport, or apparently any of her clothes; even the dress she wore to the party is still in the apartment, flung over a chair as if she had just taken it off and then gone parading out into the night stark naked. The remainder of the main plot is Gregory’s investigation into what happened to Mira, which of course involves a bevy of shady characters who either stonewall him completely or mysteriously end up dead shortly after giving him information; police hostility and suspicion about his role in the disappearance; the discovery that Mira’s odd vanishing act isn’t the only such case by a long shot; and troubling hints at some pretty sinister forces lying just beneath the veneer of Prague’s supposedly respectable ruling class.

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I also neglected to mention that this film has an unusual conceit: The entire search for the lost Mira is detailed in flashback, as Gregory lies in a morgue awaiting autopsy. See, at the very beginning of the movie, he is found, apparently dead, in a public park, but a voiceover lets the audience know that he’s actually still very much alive, but frustratingly unable to let anyone else know about his terrifying predicament. The film flips back and forth between the doctors’ fruitless attempts to revive him and his memories of looking for Mira and falling into the big conspiratorial clusterfuck that led him to the sad state of affairs he finds himself in. It’s actually a great plot device, as not only is the viewer intrigued by the mystery of the missing girlfriend, but also held in nail-biting suspense over whether Gregory will be snapped out of his deathlike trance before the autopsy knife ends his life for real.

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Like The House With the Laughing Windows, Short Night of Glass Dolls has a definite political undercurrent, though it is much more overt than the former film, so much so that I would classify it less as an undercurrent and more as a pretty obvious allegory, which is why I believe its original title was more relevant. In the resolution if its mystery, I would actually hazard a guess that it was a precursor and/or inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, as it exposes the perverse and almost vampiric nature of those in society’s top echelons, as they drain the life, both literally and figuratively, from those unfortunate souls beneath them.

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Also like the formerly discussed film, the pace of the movie is rather slow, but there is a much more lurid sexual nature to the crimes than House with the Laughing Windows had. The Prague backdrop is also a highlight, oppressive and beautiful at the same time, which handily ties in with the movie’s themes. In addition, there is some lovely imagery of butterflies and glass chandeliers and those gorgeous baroque interiors that are often a fixture of these movies. I also liked some of the seemingly random, unsettling details, like the scientist who was experimenting on plants and trying to determine if they could feel pain. And as I mentioned before, the suspense throughout the film is fantastically well-done, as the whole story becomes something of an unbearable race against time. And I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that it was quite wonderfully cruel and shocking, and something I really didn’t expect. Highly recommended.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.